Designing a Dip Front Picture Smocked Bishop – tutorial and free design

My latest Christmas bishop dress has stirred up a lot of interest and questions from fellow smockers.  It’s no secret that I love picture smocking!  I also love bishop dresses.  My favorite bishop dresses are the ones that combine picture smocking with a dip in the front.  That allows for a nice, big picture smocked design without interfering with the integrity of the fit of the bishop.


I thought I’d share the methods that work for me when I choose to add a picture smocked design to a bishop dress.  There’s no “one” way to do this, rather, the geometric design and flow has to be something that works with the picture smocking design that has been chosen.  Sometimes a couple attempts are needed before the desired look is achieved.

First and foremost, I always construct my bishop dress prior to smocking.  This is particularly important when choosing to do a picture smocking design as it allows you to visualize the pleats and their “spread” while you’re working on it.  This helps to reduce the possibility of smocking too tightly for a bishop.  Obviously, you have to have an idea of what you’re going to smock (aka: how many rows to pleat) before you construct.

As you might expect, you will need to backsmock behind the picture area as well as around any unsmocked areas around the neckline. This is another reason that making the dress up prior to smocking is helpful. I generally do my backsmocking with a cable stitch (shadows of these cable stitches can be seen from the front as with any picture smocked design), but a wave stitch or trellis can also be used and can create an interesting background shadow.

If the idea of having so many rows all around your dress causes you stress, you can always use the seamless bishop pleating method that Martha has written a tutorial on and just have the additional rows in the front of the dress design.  If you choose to use this method, I’d probably add an additional row (more than the suggested amount from the pattern) to the sleeve pieces, just to make sure that you’ll be able to do the necessary ascent when you get to that point in the smocking.

As you will be able to see with most of the pictures shown in this post, most of the ascending stitches will involve several trellis stitches up (4 – 8+), then a break with 2 – 4 cable stitches, then repeat of the trellis upwards, cables, etc. until you reach the spot where you want to continue and finish around the neckline.  If no other figures or picture smocking will be done, you can go up to where you’ve only got a couple rows smocked around the neckline.  Of course, with larger sizes, you’d probably want to have a few more rows smocked than with smaller sizes.

For this Christmas design, I chose to descend and ascend around the ornament in a repeated sequence.  That is not always the way that I choose to do it, but it worked well for this one.  The 3 closely smocked outline is done in a way that made me think of candy canes.   I thought I’d share the smocking graph with you in case this is something that you’d like to try and you don’t want to “think”.  🙂  The only element that I couldn’t successfully graph was the outline stitch that was done in white floss around the neckline row of rick rack.  Stitch that as closely as possible to the red.


Once the bishop dress is constructed, I smock the main picture first.  After I “see” how this fills the area, then I decide what or if I will add any other picture smocking designs around the remainder of the bishop dress, or if it will just have a few rows of geometric smocking.  Each design is unique.

candycane bishop1

Because of the shape of this mouse/candy cane, a row of cable stitches were used across the lower edge of this bishop dress.  As soon as it was possible to begin the upward stitching (determined by the lowest edge of the candy cane), a similar upward design was done.  No additional picture smocking designs were added around the dress.



For the Santa design, the lower edge has trellis stitches underneath the Santa, then a slight ascent begins and a few trees were added around the dress.  The geometric borders on this design are done in white and very subtle.  I felt a bright red border would not look pretty on this fancy dress.


This summer dress featured one large apple and worms around the neckline.  The border was kept simple due to the busyness of the print and smocking designs.  Just a few cable stitches at the bottom of the apple were needed before the sharp ascent upwards.


This is another example of a large design that required cable stitches at the bottom and then a steep trellis upwards with narrow breaks of 2 cable stitches.  Again, no other picture smocking designs were needed around the neckline.


IMG_6757This dress is a variation of the bishop dress that was featured in one of the Australian Smocking and Embroidery magazines.  The larger flower was chosen for the center front, but then smaller flowers around the neckline.  This design does not have as sharp an ascent upwards and was more determined by the shape of the diamonds in the background smocking.  I liked this design so well that I smocked it a couple times!  LOL!


This was one of my more unusual dip front designs.  A pink Cinderella and her silver shoe (barely shows up to the right of the girl).  This was not a favorite of mine, but my client loved it.


This design was definitely one of my favorite ones!  I was able to keep the geometric design underneath the snails, but then ascend upwards and just had a few random butterflies stitched around the remainder of the bishop.


Sorry this is a bit difficult to see with the watermark placement, but the frog also has cable stitches underneath and then it ascends to a point where there’s just a small bit of smocking around the remainder of the bishop.


This was another set that I loved.  The dress maintains a geometric trellis design that continues the up/down design that we’re accustomed to seeing on a bishop.  The difference is that you to up maybe 4 trellis stitches, then down only 2.  This gives a nice, gentle ascent to the design.


This was another favorite dress for a little girl’s first birthday.  This also has a gentle ascent marked by several trellis stitches up, a few cable stitches, more trellis stitches up, but not too far up to leave room for the birthday balloons.

The same method can be used for geometric designs and is equally pretty.  I won’t add descriptions, but will let the pictures speak for themselves.





In the end, you’re the designer.  Don’t be afraid to try something new.  If you get your picture smocked and your first attempt to surround it with your own “dip” design isn’t a success, take the stitches out and try again.  It is easiest to start the dip design from the center front and work your way around one side.  Then turn the dress upside down and do a mirror image of the design on the other half of the dress.  These are so fun to create and will get you thinking out of the box.  Have some fun with it!!!

As always, keep on stitching!!!






19 thoughts on “Designing a Dip Front Picture Smocked Bishop – tutorial and free design

      1. Kathy Post author

        The pattern in AS&E did not have the dipped front pattern. The floral bishop design in AS&E was called Twice as Nice (issue #95) and had a regular bishop style of smocking. The bishop pictured in this post was a variation of that smocking design. 🙂 Hope that helps.

  1. Mosaic Magpie

    Thank you for the examples and explanations. I have been asked to smock a UK (University of Kentucky) dress and this post has given me lots of inspiration! Is there a graph for the large collegiate style lettering available?

  2. Susan Van Houten

    Thanks Kathy. I want to try “the dip”. Think I will wait until the holidays are over and I will have more free time. I love the way you smock these dresses.

  3. Terri

    Hi, Kathy! I thought I commented on this a long time ago but maybe not since it isn’t there. I definitely wanted to let you know that I appreciate you telling up how you do the dip. I have admired it for so long! I came back to your post to see if anyone had asked about how you manage the pleating. I see you mentioned it so I’ll see what i can do. over the years I’ve learned so much from you and am truly blessed by YOUR talent! thanks so much, Terri

  4. Amber

    I have a quick question. What machine is needed to smock and do designs like this? I absolutely love the look of bishop smocked dresses. Thanks.

    1. Kathy Post author

      Thank you Amber. A pleating machine is used to put the tiny pleats in and then the bishop dress is smocked by hand.

  5. pat

    dear kathy
    I am learning picture smocking but find it hard to keep my cables even and plump. I do strip the threads. can you help. thanks pat

    1. Kathy Post author

      After stripping the threads, I always stroke them several times until they are smooth and all the twists and kinks are out. That is usually enough for me, but if more assistance is needed, you can “lay” each stitch down as is done with other types of embroidery. Don’t pull the stitches too tight. Janet Gilbert has some excellent picture smocking tutorials on her blog.

  6. Maria Emelda Pereira

    I am Maria Emelda Pereira known as Mel.I am a teacher& am self-made.I had to struggle hard to make ends meet.I now want to help my school drop-outs to make a career &be financially independent,so that they are not victims to social evils.I want to teach them this beautiful art of smocking & cut-work which is so rare today,yet in demand.Could you pl guide me thru some free tutorials,so that I could teach them.My email id is. a million in advance.I am from India(Mumbai)

    1. Kathy Post author

      What a wonderful thing that you’re doing to help these women. There are several free tutorials on learning to smock. Laurie Anderson has done some great Utube videos on how to smock. Maggie Bunch also has some great information on her blog. Creative Keepsakes has a free download booklet on smocking stitches that you could print off for your students. I hope that helps!

  7. Victoria Jones

    Thank you Kathy, your work is beautiful.
    Can you tell what pattern did you use for the bubble, is adorable.
    thank you!


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